High School to Health Care, Forging Pathways into Lab and Data … – UTHSC News

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Written by Janay Jeans
The laboratory and data sciences fields have experienced a severe shortage of professionals and face challenges with recruiting prospective students into lab and data sciences programs. Now, faculty within the College of Health Professions have created a new program to enhance recruitment and introduce high school students to lab and data science careers.
“There is a large gap in rural areas of Tennessee regarding interest and awareness of these professions, especially in high schools, when many students are beginning their educational training for careers,” said Jacen Moore, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences. “Many training programs have closed due to the difficulty of recruiting students, and we need a way to not only increase the knowledge about the professions, but also fill vacancies in the professional environment.”
“In this way, we’re not only creating the materials to educate teachers and students, but also creating pipelines for those students to pursue these careers as they progress through high school and college,” Dr. Moore said. 
High School to Health Care received support through the National Institute of Health’s Science Education Partnership Award, and last fall, the program was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The funding will be used to purchase lab equipment, virtual reality headsets, and additional materials to assist the program’s operations and outreach.
The Introduction to Laboratory and Data Sciences dual enrollment course educates students about lab and data sciences and offers college credit for successful completion of the course. It is a 16-week course exposing students to the various fields in lab science – such as hematology, immunohematology, microbiology, cytology, and clinical chemistry – and data science, which studies the importance of health record data, data safety, and the analyses of human medical data. In this course, students will also hear from specialists in the lab and data science professions, learn more about professional ethics, and analyze data on health issues that are present within their communities.
The lab and data science camp, launching June 17-21, 2024 at the Ripley Center in Ripley, TN, is a week-long summer program that aims to educate high school students with an interactive experience with various forms of lab testing and working with molecular and lab science equipment, learning lab techniques, and studying authentic health data.
“Our goal is to nurture that exposure with those students who may be interested in pursuing these fields as a career and creating a pathway for them,” Dr. Moore said. 
Members of Dr. Moore’s team include Rebecca Reynolds, EdD, professor and program director of Health Informatics and Information Management, and Keisha Brooks Burnett, EdD, associate professor and program director of Cytotechnology and Histotechnology. The program also collaborates with a team from the University of Tennessee at Martin, led by Simpfronia Taylor, EdD, director of UT Martin’s Ripley Center, and a team from the University of Memphis Center for Research and Educational Policy, including Mary Randolph-Frye, PhD, and led by Carolyn Kaldon, PhD.
The team has recently held the dual enrollment course and conducted outreach events and trainings for educators. Dr. Burnett discussed cytology and its importance in diagnosing and monitoring oral cancer at an outreach session in June at Selmer Middle School in Selmer, Tennessee. The team also held presentations on cytology at the UT Martin Coon Creek Science Center STEM Camp, and conducted a distance learning science day at the Hart Memorial Library in Kissimmee, Florida.
“Once the program moves forward, we are hoping to expand, collaborate with other institutions, and establish centers in neighboring counties and states,” said Dr. Moore. “Our main focus with this program is to promote knowledge of our professions, to get students excited about lab and data sciences, and provide tools for them to pursue valuable careers that support the health and well-being of the residents in Tennessee and beyond.”
This story was initially published in the Spring 2023 issue of the College of Health Professions magazine.
Tags: Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences, High School to Health Care, lab and data sciences, UTHSC College of Health Professions
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